Sunday, November 29, 2009

Everything that is wrong in journalism

In the lefty blogs that I read, there is a school of media criticism that refers to the Washington pundits as "the Village." The term is meant to convey the myopic, small town character of a society made up of a few thousand politicians, journalists, and "informed sources." reporters in the Village measure events primarily through the lens of how those events affect the Village. The intrinsic value of political discourse and decisions and how they affect the rest of the country and world comes in a distant second.

One aspect of this is that, to Villagers, manners matter far more than substance. Look, for example, at last week's state dinner: while the president hosted the prime minister of the world's second most populous country and one of its fastest growing economies, the Village press was most concerned with who was or was not on the guest list and on a couple of self-promoting gate crashers. Pundits columns often belong more on the society page than beside serious political reporting.

Other aspects of reporting by Villagers are their double standards for covering the parties (political parties, that is, not Village soirees) and their backwards looking introspection. For an example of these faults, this week's Newsweek gives us Jon Meacham's latest column entitled "Why Dick Cheney Should Run in 2012." I don't need to tell you my opinion of Cheney 2012; I'm sure you all know what that is. Let's focus on what Meacham thinks is important for 2012.
I think we should be taking the possibility of a Dick Cheney bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 more seriously, for a run would be good for the Republicans and good for the country. (The sound you just heard in the background was liberal readers spitting out their lattes.)

Meacham made a funny. You see, liberals are nothing more than a bunch of effete, latte sippers. It's always funny to make fun of liberals.
Why? Because Cheney is a man of conviction...

But not a man who has been convicted, a perpetual source of disappointment to us latte sippers. Okay, I made a funny too. Seriously folks, why does conviction matter? We should be far more concerned about what Cheney's convictions are. The Village school of journalism cares more about whether or not their comic book characters have a steely jaw than whether those characters are superheros or supervillains. When picking a president we should be informed more about the latter.
... [who] has a record on which he can be judged, and whatever the result, there could be no ambiguity about the will of the people. The best way to settle arguments is by having what we used to call full and frank exchanges about the issues, and then voting.

Why would merely having Cheney run for president change the way we hold elections in this country? Why would the press suddenly become interested in a full and frank exchange about the issues if Cheney was on the ballot. Meacham doesn't say.
A campaign would also give us an occasion that history denied us in 2008: an opportunity to adjudicate the George W. Bush years in a direct way.

Because the most important issue in 2012 will be looking back to the Bush years to find out what people thought about them. Is that the issue that we most need to have a "full and frank exchange" about?
Historically the country has tended to muddle through somewhere between the extremes of right and left. There is often much virtue in conducting public life by fits and starts. When things drift too far one way in ideological terms, Americans are pretty good about tugging them back to the middle. ... Given Cheney's views, even conservatives who dislike him or think it is time to open a new chapter might give the possibility another thought, for it seems much more likely that Cheney would pull Obama to the right than that Obama would pull Cheney to the left.

Why would this be a good thing? Because it makes conservatives happy, or because it's always good when Democrats try to be more like Republicans? Even as the Republican Party is careening off into black helicopter land, Meacham thinks it would be "good for the Republicans and good for the country" to drag the Democrats to the right. To what end? Just to make liberals spit their lattes? Does he think the country needs to move further to the right?

This is Village reporting at its most typical. It'd fun to insult liberals. When the Republican Party has been taken over by extremists who wouldn't even have been allowed in the party a few years ago, the realignment that's best for the country is for Democrats to move to the right. The most important issue that the he can foresee in the next election is a navel-gazing expedition into our feelings for villagers of the past.

I do agree with Meacham about one thing; we need a full and frank exchange about the issues. I just don't think we're going to get it from Meacham and the Villagers.

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